How Scent and Space Can Create Rituals in Your Day

September 6, 2017

Sara Panton, cofounder of Vitruvi, shares how her passion project turned into a full-on company, and how familiar smells can help stimulate your brain into making healthy habits.

You know that feeling you get when you walk into your parents’ house and it smells like home? Or when you catch a whiff of an ex’s cologne and the memories come flooding in? That’s the power of scent association—something Sara Panton, cofounder of Vitruvi knows very well. Her essential oils, mists and roll-on blends are a mainstay among mind-body conscious Vancouverites, and her reach keeps growing.

After studying global health, Panton travelled to Morocco and Kenya where she became interested in traditional medicine and wellness. Then, she learned about the olfactory nerve, and a light went on. “I became fascinated with how scent influenced the brain,” she explains, “I discovered essential oils and started blending my own products. It started as a passion project, and we created the company by accident.”

Her approach was equal parts careful research and trial and error. Panton would experiment and figure things out: lemon is good for energy; peppermint is good for focus. She’d mix things together and create her own potions to use at different times throughout the day.

They’re more than just pleasant smells. “There is a very powerful effect around scent association,” she explains. “The olfactory nerve is the only cranial nerve that doesn’t go through the thalamus, which is basically the switchboard of your brain. That’s why a scent can sometimes trigger a feeling before you know why.” And at Vitruvi, Panton is using scent association strategically. If you wake up to the same scent and have a scent to go to sleep with, that triggers the brain, which then triggers the body to get into routine. “I think our culture moves very quickly. There are rituals all around the world that other cultures have and ours doesn’t. I think scent is just a really cool way to create a sense of ritual.”

This idea is infused throughout the company she created with her brother, Sean. Panton is usually the first one in the office and she fills all the diffusers with peppermint oil to set the tone for the day. In the afternoon, she switches to cedar wood and bergamot—a mixture for creativity and grounding. Their office (one of the best-smelling workplaces in the city) is designed to make people comfortable and encourage inspiration. The meeting space is set up like a living room, making daily operations feel more like family meetings than business meetings.

They’re currently designing a second space in the building to be a coffee shop and creative zone. “We’re very collaborative and we make sure that everything is open space. My brother and I will never have closed off offices. I sit with our customer service team,” she explains.

And the collaborative spirit extends to their customers as well. “Our customers are the nicest people in the world. Getting feedback from them created a product that had a need. And now we get to have a two-way conversation with them—that’s probably the most rewarding part,” Panton explains. “I couldn’t imagine making a product that doesn’t make people feel good.”

In addition to diffusers, Vitruvi stocks a collection of essential oil and proprietary blends in roll-ons and mists. “My favourite product right now is our Still mist. I use it to set my makeup in the morning. It’s my favourite blend and we made it by accident. We wanted to create a balancing blend so we combined the oils associated with each of the seven chakras, and it ended up being this really cool grounding, feminine, yet fresh scent. I also use rosemary oil on my eyebrows and in my shampoo because it helps stimulate your hair follicles.”

While Vitruvi is a digital-first brand, their products are sold in over 300 stores internationally through partnerships with companies like Anthropologie, Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters. This fall, they’re announcing two more large retail partners. With launch events in multiple cities, Vitruvi is creating even more space to connect with their customers, encouraging them to take a moment for themselves and stop and smell the essential oils.

Follow @vitruvi for updates on their latest product drops, events and everything to do with social. If you’re feeling inspired by scent and looking for a space to spark your own creative endeavour make sure to start your search here.